Incident at Washington college leads liquor board to act
Alcoholic energy drinks are coming off store shelves by Thursday, Nov. 18.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board voted for a statewide emergency ban of the drinks on Wednesday, Nov. 10, following Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request.
“I was particularly concerned that these drinks tend to target young people,” Gregoire said. “Reports of inexperienced or underage drinkers consuming them in reckless amounts have given us cause for concern.”
These drinks are stimulant-enhanced malt beverages that contain two to three times the amount of alcohol as a can or bottle of beer. They include caffeine amounts similar to nonalcoholic energy drinks that range from 50 mg (similar to a can of pop) to 505 mg.
Alcoholic energy drinks often are sweet and fruit-flavored, with brightly colored packaging and a look similar to energy drinks and soft drinks.
The alcoholic energy drinks ban lasts for 120 days or until the State Liquor Control Board makes the change permanent. The federal Food and Drug Administration is investigating the safety of drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine.
A recent incident involving nine Central Washington University students led the liquor board to act. The students became dangerously ill after drinking the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko and law enforcement personnel said their blood alcohol levels ranged from 0.12 to 0.35 — more than four times the legal limit. A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.30 percent is potentially lethal.
“Quite simply, these drinks are trouble,” Gregoire said. “They contain up to 12 percent alcohol — more than twice the amount found in most beer. Added to that are large amounts of caffeine, which can mask the effects of alcohol.”
Sharon Foster, Liquor Control chairman, said the board is acting in the interest of public safety and to ensure these drinks don’t contribute to a tragedy.
Beverage company’s response
They feel the ban is not justified.
“By ignoring and circumventing the normal process by which it is required to act, the (liquor) board deprived the men, women and businesses who will be affected by the ban any opportunity to be heard on whether the ban is warranted or authorized by law,” Phusion officials said.
“The board’s action will adversely affect many businesses in Washington – including many family-owned convenience stores, grocery stores and distributors — in addition to our own business, and it will deprive the state of millions of dollars in sales and excise tax revenue.”
Phusion officials said they aren’t releasing sales figures but Sequim store owners and managers said alcoholic energy drinks are popular.
Dolores Gasche, manager of Mini Fairmont, said the ban might make the drink even more popular.
A Sequim store manager who asked to remain anonymous said one customer found out about the ban and wanted to order four or five cases.
Amy Meyer, a patron of Mini Fairmont, said a friend of hers lives off alcoholic energy drinks. Meyer feels the allure is in the fact that people don’t come down from the alcohol.
“People don’t want to get drowsy and this keeps them upbeat and going,” Meyer said.
Gasche said the drinks’ allure isn’t just for college-aged people and that she sells them to those middle-aged and up.
Some of businesses have already or intend to pull the drinks before Nov. 18.
The Longhouse Market and Deli in Blyn sold out and chose not to reorder before the liquor council’s decision was made. Gasche said she wouldn’t be surprised if the alcoholic energy drink companies find a way to reformat the product, make it less strong and get it back on shelves.
Some store managers said they look forward to Nov. 18.
Studies have found that the combination of caffeine and alcohol creates a “wide-awake drunk” and may impair a person’s ability to judge his or her level of intoxication. This can lead to continued consumption of alcohol and dangers such as driving while intoxicated, assaults and other violence.
A University of Florida survey of 800 randomly selected, college-age bar patrons found that those who consumed alcohol and caffeine were more intoxicated than those who only had alcohol, and four times more likely to say they wanted to drive home.
Combining stimulants such as caffeine and depressants such as alcohol can place undue strain on the heart and central nervous system, dehydrate the body and hinder the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol.
The combination also can cause a depressed respiratory system and vomiting during sleep when the stimulants wear off.
For more information on alcoholic energy drinks, visit www.liq.wa.gov.
List of Manufacturers of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages